Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Nuremberg Ice Tigers 2 at Eisbären Berlin 3 (OT, Deutsche Eishockey Liga) - October 9, 2022

My final day in Germany saw me return to Mercedes-Benz Arena, this time for an afternoon hockey game featuring Eisbären Berlin, who are the defending Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) champions. After attending a basketball game here on Friday, during which I did not have enough time to tour properly, I wanted to get in early and was happy to see that gates opened 90 minutes before puck drop. After wandering around the outdoor plaza (below) for a bit, I picked up the cheapest ticket (17 euros) at the box office and walked in, with security much less strict than on Friday.

The large atrium inside the main entrance was fairly empty at this early hour, and had a big chair for photo opportunities if you so desired.

I made my way up to the main concourse and into the rink, which was nicely lit for occasion. Both sides of the upper deck were open and I expected attendance to exceed that of the basketball game (where much of the upper deck was closed) but in the end, there were 1,104 less on hand for hockey (10,069 vs. 11,173).

I took the escalator to the upper deck, stopping to take a picture of what appears to be a statistical breakdown of the arena. 

There is a concourse up here as well, which has its own concessions and is quite spacious and bright, at least during the day. After the concession pick-up fiasco at the basketball game, I decided to order my food directly from the register, helped by the fact that there were no lines an hour before face-off. There was a sign advertising a pork chop sandwich for 4.5 euros, so I ordered that. But in the system, it was 5 euros and the cashier tried to explain that to me in German. I stared blankly at her, trying in vain to decipher her meaning. I finally had to mutter, "English, please" and when she explained the problem, I was not bothered by the extra 50 cents the sandwich would cost. In the end, it was delicious, as was all the stadium (and restaurant) food I ate on this trip.

From the upper concourse, you can also look out at Mercedes Platz; eagle-eyed readers will notice the Five Guys mentioned in the previous post in the bottom left corner of the photo below.

My assigned seat was in section 415 in the upper corner, which isn't that far away as there is only a single level of suites between the two levels.

Looking up, you can there are 17 rows to the top of the upper deck, though with capacity at 14,200, most of these remained empty.

From near the top at center ice, you can see how much advertising dominates the ice surface; the same goes for the uniforms, which are mostly covered with sponsor logos.

The team has won eight DEL championships over the years, including the last couple, and these are commemorated with banners at one end. They also were the 2010 European Hockey Champions, though that tournament has been replaced by another continental Champions League. Because of their title last season, Berlin was in this year's tourney but was eliminated in the group stage. You can see the polar bear on the banners; Eisbären is polar bear in German and the name evokes the bear on Berlin's Coat of Arms.

There is also a special standing area known as the Fankurve and named in honour of Hartmut Nickel, who played with Eisbären's predecessor, SC Dynamo Berlin. This is essentially a supporters' section and the fans here keep chanting and singing throughout the game. It adds a bit of atmosphere that you don't see at hockey games in North America, and you can get a ticket here if you wish to experience it close up.

The team puts on a pregame show with a video celebrating their most recent title and a couple of polar bear mascots skating around while a host tries to gets fans into the mood. Finally the players emerge from the mouth of an inflatable polar bear while pyrotechnics add some colour to the proceedings. This was probably the most impressive part of the entire afternoon.

Overall, Mercedes-Benz Arena is much more suited to hockey than basketball, but this is generally true for all multi-purpose arenas that are built to host both sports. Still, I'm wondering if the atmosphere differs when Alba Berlin plays a domestic league game, or if the Eisbären host a European match. The fact that many clubs play in both domestic and international competitions is one thing that makes European sports quite interesting and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with them after nearly seven years apart.

The Game

The Ice Tigers of Nuremberg were the visitors and in the season's early going, both teams were mid-table, with the visitors at 4-0-0-4 for 12 points, while the Polar Bears were 2-1-1-4 for 9 points (unlike the NHL, 3 points are awarded for a regulation win). Zach Boychuk (14th overall in 2008 to Carolina) was the only familiar name on either roster, though both coaches had NHL experience (Serge Aubin for Berlin and Tom Rowe for Nuremberg). As soon as the face-off was taken, I realized that the game is far slower than I am used to. Of course, that is to be expected, but even then I was surprised at the lack of speed. Anyway, the first period was rather dull and finished scoreless, though it moved quickly with a 90-second "power break" replacing the three TV timeouts that the NHL uses in each period. During the intermission, I moved to a better seat at center ice and saw Nuremberg score a bit of a lucky goal when a pass to the crease was blocked by a Berlin defenseman, only for the puck to lie there for Ryan Stoa to tap home. That was the only marker in a period filled with penalties.


In the third, the Ice Tigers doubled their lead on another fluke, this time when Daniel Schmölz threw the puck at the net from behind the goal line and it went in off goalie Tobias Ancicka. It looked like the Eisbären would get shutout, but they received a little help from the referee when he called Hayden Shaw for hooking with just 2:36 to go. With Ancicka on the bench, Berlin pressed on the power play and Kevin Clark finished off a scramble to get the Eisbären off the schneid, ending Leon Hungerecker's bid for his first DEL shutout in the process. I was glad they scored as it gave me a chance to watch the home fans wave their scarves around, a tradition that I had looked forward to and almost missed.


Down 2-1 now, the Polar Bears again pulled the goalie and again put pressure on the Ice Tiger cage and again converted a chaotic scramble as Giovanni Fiore popped in the tying goal with 47 seconds left. Yay! Overtime! Like the NHL, it is a 3-on-3 affair but just over two minutes in, Berlin took a penalty. Then a few seconds into their power play, Shaw reciprocated with his second silly penalty of the game and it was back to 3-on-3. Just 14 seconds later, Fiore came in on a Nuremberg defenseman and lost control of the puck as he tried to stickhandle, but the miscue wrong-footed the D-man and the puck slid through his legs. Fiore darted around, picked up the loose puck, and backhanded it past a helpless Hungerecker to give the Eisbären the rather unexpected win. Highlights are here for those interested; did you know Loser Point is the same in German?


With my flight less than three hours away, I did not bother waiting around for any postgame ceremonies, hightailing it back to my hotel to pick up my bag and then heading to the airport. Exactly 12 hours after the game ended, I was back in NYC, having spent about 75 hours in Germany. It was not the trip that I originally planned, but this one turned out better than expected and I hope to return to Europe for more local sports in the near future.

Notes

The home team won all five games I attended on the trip. I will gladly accept donations from any European fans who would like me to help out their team.

Next Up

I'll be heading to the UAE for the final F1 race of the season and some golf, and then Qatar for a few World Cup matches. Check back for an update in a couple of months.

Best,

Sean

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